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For a glimpse of truly dignified service, the movie “The Butler” is a must see.
The movie is based upon a newspaper article about Eugene Allen, a butler who served in the White House under eight presidents from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan.
The segregation and race riots of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s are a central theme, but one of the most powerful messages to get from the film is that of dignified, discreet, respectful service. It should be required viewing for every stew and every captain who wants to know what true service is all about.
Not everyone gets “the call” to service. Not everyone has the perseverance to carry it through. And you know what? Not everyone has to. Life will go on.
But for those of us who do get “the call”, service is larger than life and it becomes one of the foundations of our lives. We are all human, we all have our ups and downs, and it is the “down” part of our lives — and the drama that comes with it — that holds the biggest challenges and the highest potential for growth.
In “The Butler”, we see the pride, honor of job and contribution to life that come from dedication to service at a high level and to a higher power. This requires maturity and a high level of professionalism.
While we yacht stews may have trouble seeing the bigger picture when dealing with difficult owners or guests, the people we serve in yachting are invariably powerful people. Whether we choose to admire or scorn them, obviously they have done something right in order to achieve the level of “success” that they are living.
At some point in our yachting career, many of us yearn to have the same trappings of success — the bling, the cars, the clothing — that define “luxury” as we know it today. How lucky are we to live smack dab in the middle of this environment? And at the very least we get to see that, well, to put it bluntly, money doesn’t always buy happiness, and the things that add the most value to our lives don’t always come with a six-figure price tag.
Yachties have a different measure for life, just as the butlers of the White House do in the movie. Sometimes, we, too, witness history unfold. Our guests and owners are likely to be some of the most powerful and influential people on the planet, Oprah included. From princes to presidents to Nobel prize-winning scientists and dot.com billionaires, we have seen it all. One cannot help but be humbled, and grateful for the rare glimpse of another world that we experience on a regular basis.
But the biggest takeaway from all of this exposure to wealth and power is that we are all the same on a fundamental level, and sometimes we can profoundly relate to each other.
One of my biggest lessons in life came about early in my yachting career. I used to think money could buy happiness. Until I saw one of my first bosses in the middle of a lawsuit that shook him and his family to their core.
A charter guest was involved in a high-profile hostile takeover and was reputed in the press to be a not-so-nice person. But to us, he was like family, and he and his guests were polite, kind and respectful to a fault. It showed me that authenticity and integrity are valuable character traits.
I can’t help but compare “The Butler” with the Bravo reality show “Below Deck”. They are equally popular right now, and yet complete opposites. I love the cast of “Below Deck”, yet I feel that those in authority are constantly being maligned by junior crew. That type of behavior is just part of the process. Until you have the time under your belt, you simply cannot see the big picture. It is normal to challenge the decisions of senior crew.
But what goes around comes around, and at some point everyone gets the chance to revisit their beliefs. My mom used to call this “growing up”.
As author Marianne Williamson said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”
And so we hold ourselves back.
“There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you,” Williamson said. “We are all meant to shine, as children do.”
Being in service is one of the most selfless, powerful, enlightened things you can do. Service gives us the opportunity to silently beam our best out to others, and in so doing, we really can make the world a better place.
Alene Keenan has been a megayacht stew for more than 20 years. She teaches at MPT in Ft. Lauderdale and offers interior crew training through her company, Yacht Stew Solutions (www.yachtstewsolutions.com). Download her book, The Yacht Service Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht, on her site or amazon.com. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.